Book Review: Witchfinder

I’ve linked to some of Sarah Hoyt’s posts before, both from According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club  blog. I’ve liked her writing since discovering it via Instapundit, but until now, I’d only read her essays (some of her blog posts, to me, seem involved and rich enough to call them that) and short stories. This is the first novel of hers I’ve read, and I have to say that I’d been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks, ever since I saw the teaser on her site.

The book might best be called “Historical Fantasy” though the version of Regency England that most of the story takes place in is a world or two removed from our own. Among other things, King Arthur was real, magic works, and it is illegal to travel between worlds, which of course means that the plot focuses on a few who do just that. The story takes a couple of chapters to get going. This is not a bad thing at all, of course… I am the person who went through 400 pages of Infinite Jest to figure out what the actual story was. But it does factor with the few things I didn’t like about this book.

Let me get them out of the way. Some of the dialogue, especially when we first meet a new character, is stuffed with unrealistic detail, detail a character living in the world wouldn’t use but included for a reader’s benefit. These go away after the early part of the book, though. There were some typos, especially involving the name of a character when we first hear about him, that threatened to pull me out of the book when I’d barely begun. I also found a few grammatical typos (including one sentence than stood out because it’s a kind of error… a labyrinthine sentence that doesn’t quite close itself at the end… that I always have to edit out of my own MSs) that bothered me. I’m not bothered to the degree that I was with the typos and eggcorns in Twilight because I expect a company like Scholastic to have layers of editors and fact-checkers and proofreaders, or at least, that was how the big publishing companies justified their price points and superiority over indies. But, I will say to Ms Hoyt that she should go over the book one more time or have an independent editor do so, and I’ll say to the readers after me that you should ignore them and plunge on with the story, because it is a hell of a story.

The plot, once it gets moving, does not stop for anything. Just when I thought I had a handle on what the characters had to do and what they could possibly do to get out of it, something twisted and sent me along a new path. While at the very beginning, the characters seem like hopeless stereotypes from Regency or Edwardian romance fiction (the dissolute duke, the bastard brother who loves him, the plucky female spy, the mother who knows most and suffers for it, etc) the characters do jump out in new directions. The description of the world(s) and the magic involved were at once charming, dramatic, and realistic. And there are a couple interesting folds that show that Ms Hoyt is definitely having fun with the world, such as when we learn that the denizens of this magical England have the same fairy tales, but they’re interpreted a little differently:

“although mostly what one learned [from Cinderella] was not to perform love-spells involving one’s own father and a nice-seeming neighbor lady, when one was a very young and inexperienced witch. And as for Little Riding Hood, that charming cautionary tale had prevented many a young girl from giving her pet dog characteristics of her human playmates in order to have him better play house.”

All told, this was a worthwhile read, and I’m glad I bought it. It also gives me hope for the independent publishing world that an already-established author like Sarah Hoyt is willing to take the plunge and publish on her own, and that such work obviously wasn’t something her ‘real’ publisher rejected but a quality, well written piece of entertainment. Consider it recommended.

Rating: 4/5 stars. Five, of course, I will only give to books that threaten to rewrite the very fabric of humanity. 2/5 is a competent book… one that I at least felt like finishing. 3/5 is good… say, a C+ or a B- maybe. It’s not one I could imagine rereading, but it’s also not a book that would make me call up the publisher and ask for a refund of my time. 4/5… I’m going to be rereading this. And if there are more books forthcoming, I’ll read those as well, and most likely push them on the blog.

 

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Witchfinder”

  1. A couple of points. Sarah Hoyt did have an independent editor go over the manuscript, a couple of them in fact. Things always get missed. I have seen things that got missed in reprints of Heinlein’s juveniles. The other is that Sarah did do the odd conversations. Odd things to set up a universe are the curse of writers. This one was non-standard enough that I thinkl she did well. I noticed that you accepted that as the reason and am glad you enjoyed it. I think Sarah just keeps getting better and hope that someday she gets the recognition that she richly deserves. Why yes, I am a fan of hers, how did you guess? 🙂

    1. I hope I made clear that while there were a few problems, especially early on, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and hope that she does have new ones planned. (I would prefer new ones on my shelf, but I can wait. Maybe.) I was more concerned that a reader who wasn’t familiar with her other work would be turned off by those early mistakes and set it down, which would be a shame. She also inspires me in my own writing project, and I think sets a good example for writers who want to go independent.

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